Review of Susan Elia MacNeal’s forthcoming The Queen’s Accomplice

London is in a blackout, which means the Blackout Beast comes out to play, or rather to kill, in Susan Elia MacNeal’s sixth novel in the Maggie Hope mystery series, The Queen’s Accomplice. If Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, the fifth novel in the series, is infectious, then The Queen’s Accomplice is addictive.

As in the prior books, the aptly described environment and characters shape a multidimensional World War II stage, this time in London. The realistic details and apropos literary, art, mythological, dance, and musical references contour the setting. The allusions befit the educated clan that populates the Maggie Hope novels. The well-researched world that MacNeal paints with words is believable, even to the hand a wedding ring would occupy depending on the European country in question. As with the others in the series, The Queen’s Accomplice is a quick, compelling read with MacNeal’s dashing style and story-telling prowess at its apex. The novel successfully weaves and balances a pace of intertwining subplots while advancing the central plot leading you seamlessly, as a partner at a dance party, to the threshold of the upcoming seventh novel.

The theme of friendship threads The Queen’s Accomplice as it did in the previous novels. And Maggie’s friends who accompany her in her adventures are the kinds of people you’d like to have as your friends. Except for the ones who want her dead, of course. Her friends demonstrate the kind of unconditional ties and love everyone craves, especially, in her case, when biological family might be the enemy. They find her when she’s lost, rebuild and renovate her home, and shelter her when she needs safety. We can only hope we all would be so fortunate to forge such steadfast relationships, many of which are the paradigm of platonic love and family in the truest sense of the word. The Queen’s Accomplice showcases and develops the strengths and personalities of Maggie’s friends, drawing you into her circle and allowing you to appreciate the good that might balance out the evil that dominates the World War II era.

The Queen’s Accomplice highlights a number of issues relevant to our contemporary world under the broad category of “good versus evil.” The most obvious of these is the one of gender inequality, especially regarding unequal pay and misogyny. MacNeal illustrates gender discrimination by characters’ derogatory and judgmental opinions of women’s ideas, characters, and personalities. In the book, MacNeal features the lose-lose situation women often find themselves in where the same strength that would be valued in a man might undermine a woman’s reputation. Additionally, women’s appearances are overvalued, whether the woman be attractive or not, whereas a man’s appearance is generally considered irrelevant and diminished in importance compared to his abilities or, perhaps, even just his gender. Another presented idea is the danger of first impressions based on someone’s appearance, which is good for all of us to keep in mind.

In The Queen’s Accomplice, MacNeal explores many evils, one of which is the ingrained misogyny that leads certain people to wage wars against women, against working women specifically in the novel. One critique might be that the men in The Queen’s Accomplice might be too black and white, obviously discriminating, and prevalent, possibly painting too many men simplistically as being villains. However, the lack of subtlety and sexist ubiquitousness does lead the reader astray in trying to identify the Blackout Beast, keeping the reader guessing. Additionally, the degree of gender discrimination that faces Maggie Hope might very well be more accurate than we’d like to admit in her line of work or during that era at large. However, despite the war of the genders that Maggie encounters, she never concedes but recognizes steadfastly, as others in the book say, that “women are our secret weapon” in the greater war facing Britain and the world.

The book focuses on good versus evil, also highlighting the good in people like Maggie Hope and some of her compatriots. Her courage as a secret agent will inspire you to be your bravest self. The choices that the characters must make will precipitate you to question if you would suffer and perish for your ideals, should you be in the same position as they are. When the time comes, will you sacrifice yourself for others? Although we might feel safe from war, as MacNeal writes, the “war never, ever begins or ends.” The war didn’t begin with the Nazis, though they presented a patent evil, nor has it died with their demise.

Maggie Hope is fearless and brilliant yet humble, courageous yet human. In the case of capturing the Blackout Beast, her need for mathematical precision might have slowed her down, since her calculations were redundant compared to circumstantial evidence, and her need for certainty and proofs might well have been to her detriment, rather than a strength. Yet she stayed in character, and her logical brain and resistance against seismic emotions are what ultimately keeps her alive in each book, even when things get a little psychedelic.

“It isn’t fair,” some of the characters shout from the book, each with a different agenda and perspective. No, life isn’t fair. But with Maggie Hope as your friend, life is a little more enjoyable.  And exciting.